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The gig economy raises new safety challenges for workers

Between Uber, Lyft, Postmates and countless other apps, more workers are turning to the on-demand or "gig economy" for temporary or even semi-permanent employment. But, as workers and consumers embrace these technologies, new questions arise in regards to worker safety.

States across the country are grappling with this issue. At the center of the debate: how responsible are these companies for protecting and covering individuals who are injured while working?

The challenges of the gig economy

The on-demand economy, loosely defined as one where workers and clients are connected through a digital platform, has been growing in recent years, particularly due to the popularity of services like Postmates, or California-based apps like the ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft, or the TaskRabbit app, which connects users with each other to perform simple tasks like house cleaning or dog walking.

But lawmakers and workers across the nation are worried about the effect that the growth of these apps will have on worker safety and protection, according to a recent article by Business Insurance. Washington state Department of Labor & Industries recently ordered Postmates, Inc. to retroactively pay workers' compensation premiums for over 3,000 of its couriers located in the state.

Increased hazards for workers

While these services provide ease-of-access to consumers and customers, on-demand economy workers still face hazards and safety challenges.

Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing services garner a lot of media attention, but workers in for-hire transportation face difficult and hazardous working conditions. Drivers for these services face the same hazards as taxi drivers and chauffeurs, which are killed on the job at a rate of five times that of other workers.

Meanwhile, the companies at the heart of the on-demand economy continue to classify workers as independent contractors, generally preferring to avoid dealing with coverage and other workers' issues.

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